MLS Insider: Tom Bogert

USMNT roster projection: Who could be called up for Concacaf Nations League?


The international soccer calendar waits for no one, including federations that have no sporting director, no general manager and no (full-time) head coach at the moment.

For the first time since the FIFA 2022 World Cup, the US men’s national team will have an unrestricted pool of players to pick from for the March international window. Concacaf Nations League games away to Grenada (March 24) and home vs. El Salvador (March 27) both await.

Interim head coach Anthony Hudson and his staff had a training camp and friendlies (2-1 loss against Serbia, 0-0 draw with Colombia) in January, made up of mostly domestic-based players and European-based players who were not regulars with their respective first teams. This month, there are no restrictions and (knock on wood) an extremely healthy pool to choose from, an anomaly for the USMNT over the last cycle.

It’s time to pick a roster.

One of the caveats for me is there’s no limit to roster size, unlike the World Cup or Gold Cup. How bloated will the squad numbers be? Argentina named 35 players for their March window roster. Mexico named 34 for their Nations League games. That’s a lot! Anyway. Just something to keep in mind that roster size here is very, very fluid. 

The USMNT called 24 players in January and 26 players in September. They haven’t quite gone that high recently. Still, I went with 29 because of the transitional nature of the federation.

A more inclusive roster makes sense, but let the record show Matt Doyle has sent me numerous texts to say I’m wrong. I think that’s his favorite text to send me. Well, second favorite behind when the New York Knicks lose a big game.

Goalkeepers - 4
  • Sean Johnson (Toronto FC)
  • Gaga Slonina (Chelsea)
  • Zack Steffen (Middlesbrough)
  • Matt Turner (Arsenal)

Here’s the first instance where I’m leaning into a likely larger squad with a fourth goalkeeper, allowing 18-year-old Gaga Slonina to join the group. If Doyle is right and it’s a smaller roster, I’d assume Slonina just drops to the U-20 camp.

Center backs - 5
  • Cameron Carter-Vickers (Celtic)
  • Tim Ream (Fulham)
  • Chris Richards (Crystal Palace)
  • Miles Robinson (Atlanta United)
  • Walker Zimmerman (Nashville SC)

Tim Ream has been among this Premier League season’s best center backs at 35 years young, helping lead a club that was meant to be in a relegation fight, but is instead pushing for UEFA Conference League soccer. It’s an awesome story.

Cameron Carter-Vickers has shown his quality at Celtic. Chris Richards has been good at Crystal Palace when he’s fit. Walker Zimmerman remains that dude. The top four CBs pick themselves.

The question is if there’ll be another central defender or not. A fifth CB may be pushing it, but I think Miles Robinson seamlessly slots back into the group. He would have been on the World Cup roster and perhaps a key starter if not for his torn Achilles in May 2022. The good news? Physically, he seems to have already gained his explosive athleticism, which can take some time after this kind of injury (see: Aaron Long).

That leaves Long (LAFC), Mark McKenzie (Genk) and Erik Palmer-Brown (Troyes) on the outside looking in.

Fullbacks - 5
  • Sergiño Dest (AC Milan)
  • DeJuan Jones (New England Revolution)
  • Antonee Robinson (Fulham)
  • Joe Scally (Borussia Monchengladbach)
  • DeAndre Yedlin (Inter Miami CF)

Sergiño Dest has not had a great loan at AC Milan, but he’s still the unquestioned first-choice right back for the USMNT. Antonee Robinson has flourished at Fulham and has left back on lock for his country, too.

DeAndre Yedlin and Joe Scally are both likely to retain their place in the squad after the World Cup, particularly Scally as he continues to improve in the Bundesliga and develop at the age of 20.

I’m not sure if the USMNT will add a fifth fullback to the roster – I am pushing it with numbers – but DeJuan Jones did enough in January to remain with the group in March. Backup left back remains a question mark, so like a few other spots that aren’t defined, extra roster spots to add competition is welcomed.

New York Red Bulls homegrown John Tolkin could be that guy instead as well.

Central midfielders - 6
  • Kellyn Acosta (LAFC)
  • Tyler Adams (Leeds United)
  • Luca de la Torre (Celta de Vigo)
  • Weston McKennie (Leeds United)
  • Yunus Musah (Valencia)
  • Malik Tillman (Rangers FC)

Tyler Adams and Weston McKennie, now Premier League teammates at Leeds, are among the first two names on the team sheet. Yunus Musah isn’t far behind. It’s an established starting midfield trio. Luca de la Torre is the obvious backup, as is Kellyn Acosta.

Malik Tillman has been awesome for Rangers this season, with 7g/4a in just under 1,600 league minutes. He can fill a few roles in the 4-3-3 the group has been playing, but midfield seems like the right spot to list him for now.

Perhaps Internacional’s Johnny Cardoso could come in as another option at DM. Seattle’s Cristian Roldan is a valuable member of the pool, but with the abnormally strong bill of health at both central midfield and right winger, there may not be room this time.

Wingers - 5
  • Brenden Aaronson (Leeds United)
  • Christian Pulisic (Chelsea)
  • Gio Reyna (Borussia Dortmund)
  • Tim Weah (Lille)
  • Alejandro Zendejas (Club América)

Christian Pulisic, Tim Weah, Brenden Aaronson and Gio Reyna are obvious choices. If they’re fit, they’re on the roster and playing minutes, simple as. U.S. Soccer released the investigation into former head coach Gregg Berhalter, with the Reyna family at the center of it. Hudson has spoken that it’s time to move on from the incident.

Alejandro Zendejas was a surprise inclusion in the January camp, both for his dual-national status and the fact Club América were under no obligation to release him amid their Liga MX season. But the USMNT and Club América worked it out so he’d play against Serbia and return early. That would signal he is serious about wanting to commit his future to the US and reports over the last couple of weeks say he’s made his decision after not making Mexico’s roster under new manager Diego Cocca. 

I very much expect Zendejas to be on this roster, committing his future to the USMNT. (UPDATE: Zendejas formally committed to the USMNT on Tuesday morning.)

With the strength of the winger group (and the rare instance in which none of them are currently injured), there may not be room for Taylor Booth or Djordje Mihailovic despite their impact at Eredivisie sides Utrecht and AZ Alkmaar, respectively. Looks like the same for MLS-based Paul Arriola (Dallas) and Jordan Morris (Seattle).

Regardless, all these players on the bubble can look to push their way in for the Gold Cup squad this summer.

Strikers - 4
  • Daryl Dike (West Brom)
  • Jesús Ferreira (FC Dallas)
  • Ricardo Pepi (Groningen)
  • Josh Sargent (Norwich City) 

With no cap on roster size, I see no reason not to bring four center forwards. The position remains an enigma with no clear starter. Let them battle it out in training.

Josh Sargent emerged as the No. 1 choice at the World Cup, though Jesús Ferreira and Haji Wright each got plenty of playing time. Sargent probably comes into this camp as the de-facto starter, but just like the World Cup, it’s still open.

Ricardo Pepi was left off the World Cup roster, but keeps scoring goals at Groningen, now with 9g/3a in 1,700 minutes for one of the Eredivisie’s bottom clubs. Daryl Dike now has six goals with West Brom since returning from injury after the World Cup. 

Wright and Brandon Vazquez (FC Cincinnati) would probably be next up on this list. It wouldn’t surprise me if either made the squad; the group of center forwards is fungible. Jordan Pefok is probably a slight step behind those two, as he’s scored just one Bundesliga goal since September for Union Berlin.

Lastly: Man, I’d love to see the official announcement be led with a picture of Folarin Balogun. The New York-born center forward, who has most recently been with England youth national teams and is also eligible for Nigeria, is killing it in France on loan at Reims from Arsenal. I think it’s a possibility he picks the USMNT, maybe even as soon as now, but there isn’t much urgency to do so before a pair of Nations League games.

29-man roster projection
USMNT March Nations League games

Goalkeepers (4): Sean Johnson (Toronto FC), Gaga Slonina (Chelsea), Zack Steffen (Middlesbrough), Matt Turner (Arsenal)

Center backs (5): Cameron Carter-Vickers (Celtic), Tim Ream (Fulham), Chris Richards (Crystal Palace), Miles Robinson (Atlanta United), Walker Zimmerman (Nashville SC)

Fullbacks (5): Sergiño Dest (AC Milan), DeJuan Jones (New England Revolution), Antonee Robinson (Fulham), Joe Scally (Borussia Monchengladbach), DeAndre Yedlin (Inter Miami CF)

Central midfielders (6): Kellyn Acosta (LAFC), Tyler Adams (Leeds United), Luca de la Torre (Celta de Vigo), Weston McKennie (Leeds United), Yunus Musah (Valencia), Malik Tillman (Rangers FC)

Wingers (5): Brenden Aaronson (Leeds), Christian Pulisic (Chelsea), Gio Reyna (Borussia Dortmund), Tim Weah (Lille), Alejandro Zendejas (Club América)

Strikers (4): Daryl Dike (West Brom), Jesús Ferreira (FC Dallas), Ricardo Pepi (Groningen), Josh Sargent (Norwich City)